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Tue. Oct 4th, 2022
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As electric vehicle (EV) sales grow globally, automakers have pivoted to electricheavy strategies. This trend has turned the spotlight on the potential shortages of critical materials – especially battery raw materials – essential for the transition.
At present, the prospects of EVs are predominantly linked to lithium-ion batteries, which require a lot of lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese and graphite. Since batteries account for 30-40% of the value of an EV, falling battery prices in recent years spurred growth, but Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has hit supply chains and stalled the slide in battery prices.
Question Of Energy Security
The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects global demand for EV batteries to grow tenfold from around 340 GWh currently to over 3,500 GWh by 2030. So the Ukraine crisis has turned the focus on material supply chains, currently dominated by China, which does most of the anode and cathode production for lithium batteries and has more than half of the world’s refi ning capacity for lithium, cobalt and graphite.
But as the electrifi cation of transport gains pace, battery raw material sourcing and processing would need to be diversifi ed. In fact, ensuring supply of critical materials and price stability has become a matter of energy security strategy. New deposits of critical materials have been identifi ed in parts of South America, Central Asia, Africa and Australia. However, concerns over supply
remain as turning these deposits productive could take several years.
Focus On Circularity
That’s why resource effi ciency will be crucial in the interim. Fortunately, lithium batteries are almost entirely recyclable. Under idealised conditions retired batteries could supply over half of the global demand for cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel within two decades (although realistic modelling puts the number lower). And while recycling processes have their own environmental footprint, EV batteries made from recycled materials account for 38% less carbon than those made with virgin materials.
The financial viability of EV battery recycling depends on battery composition, design, transportation distance and recycling method, but government regulation and targeted incentives can help.
Currently China, Europe and the US account for over 80% of global EV battery demand, and all three have introduced legislation to expand recycling and facilitate circularity in their EV battery supply chains.
Road Map For India
India’s growth in electric vehicles is also projected to be explosive. A NITI Aayog report on the country’s advanced chemistry cells (ACC) reuse and recycling market estimates a cumulative capacity of 600 GWh to be operationalised between 2022 and 2030 – an increase of over 27 times from 2021. Nearly two-thirds of the potential capacity additions are slated to come from EVs.
India’s low lithium battery manufacturing capacity will initially lead to ballooning imports. So, the government is pushing to expand battery manufacturing, particularly through a productionlinked incentive scheme that aims to add 50 GWh of ACC battery manufacturing capacity.
On the raw material front, India has reserves of nickel, manganese, copper and aluminium, and is the world’s second largest producer ofgraphite. However, cobalt and lithium have to be imported.
As a recent World Resources Institute study points out, establishing a closed-loop circular economy for batteries will be important to achieve energy independence. NITI Aayog estimates new batteries would create a recycling volume of 128 GWh by 2030, around 46% of which will come from EVs. To treat this volume, India’s lithium battery recycling capacity would have to increase about 60 times over the next eight years, from more than 2 GWh now.
The government took a key step in this direction when the environment ministry notifi ed the Battery Waste Management Rules, 2022 under the Mission for Circular Economy. The new rules, for the fi rst time, specifi cally cover EV batteries andspecify an ambitious recovery target of 90% by 2027 for EV batteries. They also mandate a minimum use of 5% of recycled material in new batteries manufactured from 2027, which will be ramped up year-onyear to 20% by 2030-31.
While the new rules are a start, greater standardisation through subsequent mandates around battery manufacturing and design could improve the viability of treating complicated cell chemistries and assembly designs. The writer is the media research and policy lead at communications and research organisation Climate Trends, the knowledge partner for the RePlanet initiative

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